Saturday, June 25, 2011

'Adaminte Magan Abu' an endearing film about the piety of an ordinary and poor Malayalee Muslim couple

It is difficult to make a film without a sense of dramatic conflict and yet make it interesting and even riveting. And when the theme is about piety, it looks that it can only be a sermon and not an interesting human story. Here is where 'Adaminte Magan Abu' succeeds and succeeds well. Abu, played by Saleem Kumar, and his wife Aisuamma, played by Zarina Wahab, want to make the Haj pilgrimage and gather all their lifetime savings, sell off the wife's jewellery, the cow-and-calf and the jackfruit tree in their front yard to make the trip. Aisu tells when the cattle are sold and trcuked away, 'I never treated them as cattle. When I was alone, I used to talk to them." And at the end Abu says, "It was wrong to have sold the tree and have it cut. Trees too have life."

They are offered money by well-meaning neigbours and friends -- the Hindu school master, the Christian timber wood merchant and the Muslim travel agent -- but Abu refuses their offer. He says that Haj can only be made with one's own money and not that of others. It is a basic Islamic tradition about Haj, and poor Abu states it in the most simple manner with sincerity and conviction. Their only son Sattar who goes away to Gulf and never looks back to the ageing and indigent father and mother remains the sore point for Abu. When Aisu suggests that they should approach their son for the money to go on Haj, he refuses. He says that one does not become a father and son by the connection of birth alone. He is not sure whether his alienated son Sattar had earned money in the right way or not.

The other moving aspect of the film is that Aisu and he go to neighbours and friends to beg forgiveness and bid goodbye before leaving for the trip. They go to Suleiman, with whom Abu had a bitter feud over a small fence. Suleiman who had moved away to another village and who is now an invalid repents and asks Abu to to Allah not for his recovery but for his death before he becomes a burden to others. The Hindu school master and his wife ask the Muslim couple to pray for them to Allah.

There is also the touching scene when Abu had to go to the police station for passport verification. He and Aisu are terrified because they do not understand why he has to go to the police station. Abu takes the school master with him.

There is no great drama and Madhu Ambat's photography -- he shot G.V.Iyer's Adi Shankaracharya' in 1985 -- but he is able to evoke the intimacy of the familiar environs of a people who live in a small place their whole lifetime with a certain warmth.

Saleem Kumar and Zarina Wahab lend credibility to the characters of Abu and Aisu. Those who are looking for that elusive texture of life of an ordinary Muslim, who is both rooted in his local culture and connected to the universal and cosmopolitan tenets of his faith -- for simple Malayalee Muslims like Abu and Aisu Arabia is both a foreign country but familiar holy territory. This is something people like V.S.Naipual can never understand but it is a matter of simple experience for the Muslim in Kerala and in Indonesia and in Xinjiang. They belong to their particular geographical nooks and crannies but they can connect with the religious geography of Arabia.

Abu imagines mount Mina, the last sermon of the Prophet at Arafat, and then he says that they will not be able to go for Haj until Ibrahim Nabi sends for them! Simple beliefs and simple sentiments that make lives of ordinary people meaningful.

It is for this reason that 'Adaminte Magan Abu' stands out and the jury had done well to give it the national award for best film and also the award for best actor to Saleem Kumar. Apparently, Saleem Kumar was so drawn to the role of Abu and the theme of the story, that he wanted to make the Haj pilgirmage. When he was told that a non-Muslim cannot make the pilgirmage, he had decided to support a pilgrim who cannot afford to pay for himself or herself.

This film reminds one another heart-warming tale of an ordinary Muslim family in rural Bengal in Mrinal Sen's 'Amaar Bhuvan'.


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